Pender County's first distillery opens

The greater Topsail area has a new watering hole. Hidden Ships Distillery, the first distillery to open in Pender County, is the creation of Amy and Andy Szwejbka.

Their story sets sail when Andy retired from the Marines after a 20-year career. They loaded their four children and a dog into an RV and navigated the nation for one year.

As the Szwejbka family visited unique breweries and distilleries, the idea of creating their own distillery fomented.  

“We have lived all over the United States,” Amy said. “But we have a connection here.”

The Topsail area, their home, was where they wanted to launch the business, in a location that didn’t have a distillery.

“The name Hidden Ships is a nod to Topsail Island,” said Amy, acknowledging the pirate legend and lore of ships hiding along the coast.

“We had a page of ideas for the names of the distillery,” added Andy. “We’re pleased with this one.”

The couple embarked on their business idea by attending Moonshine University, at the University of Kentucky.

“Amy graduated top of the class,” Andy noted.

It was a major investment for the couple to attend hands-on schooling at the university. Both Amy and Andy agree the investment was worth the expense because it gave them a network of knowledgeable people, exposure to new ideas, and it gave them the confidence to move forward with their dream distillery.

They hired a distillery consultant, Steve Tomori, and worked with graphic artists to design the logo.

They dropped anchor in Triton Village in Surf City, off Charlie Medlin Dr.

“We were able to move our timeline up one year when we found this location,” Amy said.

A Kickstarter campaign helped supplement the family’s investment. They were thankful for the support of local businesses. A wall of supporters honors those who believed in Hidden Ships Distillery is proudly displayed in the bar.

“We wanted to give customers a full experience and this location works,” said Andy. “We will give tours and offer full tastings in another room. In the bar area, customers can view the equipment and the spirits. There’s an outdoor patio too.”
The interior design is Art Deco with a 1920’s vibe.

“We wanted a speakeasy, prohibition atmosphere,” said Amy.

Carrying through with the Roarin’ 20’s décor, Amy and Andy created a drink menu that is also a salute to the era, featuring Smoked Old Fashioned, Manhattans, Boulevardier, Sazerac, Martini, Cosmopolitan, Valentino, Moscow Mule, Tom Collins, and Negroni. Using their rum, they have menu that includes a Rum Fix, Between the Sheets, Mojito, and Daiquiris.

The menu includes dessert drinks, such as Espresso Martini, White Russian, and a Chocolate Martini. They also serve a small selection of red, white, and sparkling wines. Non-alcoholic beverages are available too.

In the backroom, Drew Causey, a recently retired Marine of 25 years, is pleased to work at Hidden Ships Distillery and get the opportunity to live in North Carolina.
Hidden Ships Distillery produces vodka, gin, rum, and bourbon.

“It’s important to us to continue a North Carolina bourbon,” said Andy. “The corn we use is from Statesville.”

“Our bourbon was sourced from a distillery in states like North Carolina called Southern Distilling,” said Amy. “We brought it here and did a secondary ageing with Sherry infused wood spirals for eight weeks, which gave the bourbon we bottled a unique flavor profile unlike anything else. We will be laying down our own bourbon with our own mash this fall.”

Amy said she loves their gin, and she enjoys hearing from people who had bad experiences with gin, but love the Hidden Ships Distillery gin. Andy said his favorite is their gin, but the bourbon is a close second on his list.

“Everything we do here is offering customer experience,” said Andy. “Our focus is spirits to deliver a fantastic, well-made cocktail. We want consistency year to year.”

Buffalo Bills fans can enjoy Hidden Ships Distillery as the official Bills Backers throughout the Bill’s NFL schedule.

Hidden Ships Distillery opened on Sept. 30. The business is located at 116 Charlie Medlin Dr. in Surf City. The distillery and store hours are Wednesday through Saturday, 12– 10 p.m., and Sundays 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. Hidden Ships Distillery is closed Mondays and Tuesdays.

To place an order or to book a tour, visit Hidden Ships Distillery at